A tour of a new U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, informational displays by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and a kid-sized boat were among the activities held on St. Thomas May 16, in honor of the U.S. National Safe Boating Week. The theme of this year’s celebration was “Boat Smart from the Start.”
“We’ve had only a few boating fatalities over the last couple of years,” said Roberto Tapia, DPNR’s acting director of environmental enforcement. “Any fatalities are one too many. That’s why it’s so important to wear your life jacket. If you have it, and not wear it, it doesn’t count.”
One of the highlights of the day was a guided tour of the 87-foot patrol boat, the Coast Guard Cutter Reef Shark. LTJG Rachel Cruzcosa, captain of the ship and its 11-men crew, explained, “We’re tasked with performing search and rescue missions, homeland security, enforcement of laws and treaties, drug and migrant interdiction and educating the public about boating safety.”
Built by Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana in 1998, and one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s newer designs, the vessel is powered by twin diesel engines of 1,430 horsepower each, meaning it can comfortably navigate in 13-foot waves and up to 200 miles offshore. Two 50-caliber machine guns as well as small arms aid the crew in law enforcement tasks.
One of the key design features of the Reef Shark is the Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat Stern Launch and Recovery System. Cruzcosa explains, “This allows us to deploy a launch in one to two minutes rather than 10 to 15 minutes. The benefit of this was clear a few weeks ago when we were able to reach a boat of fishermen who had lost their engine and get a tow line to them before their disabled vessel hit the rocks.”
Boating safety was a topic Cruzcosa hit home in her talk to the assembled crowd. She underscored the need for boaters to file float plans, stay with the vessel if it overturns to aid in being rescued, maintain the vessel properly, be knowledgeable about the use of communications and safety equipment, know weather conditions before heading out and, if using alcohol, do so responsibly.
Coastie was a big hit with the assembled children. Tim Futrell, flotilla commander for the USCG Auxiliary, says, “Coastie is interactive and helps to teach kids about boating safety.” True to form, the remote controlled little boat spoke to the kids, with Futrell’s help, and batted its eyes, all the while showing off safety gear such as a fire extinguisher, life buoy and emergency beacon.
The USCG Auxiliary is America’s volunteer arm of the U.S. Coast Guard and some 5500 people strong nationwide. Duane Minton, commander of the USCG Auxiliary’s 16th or U.S. Virgin Islands District, says, “We are now 95 members strong and I expect membership will break 100 by the end of the year.”
Many U.S. flag vessels know the Auxiliary best for its free vessel safety checks. “We can do almost everything the active duty Coast Guard can do, except law enforcement. That means we can tell you safety violations and what you need to correct them during a vessel safety check, but there’s no enforcement.”
The USVI’s Auxiliary has recently received national attention for its innovation and distribution of over 100 survival kits to commercial fishermen. The kits contain items such as donated life rafts, water, food, flares, whistles, signal mirrors and 30 feet of bright yellow tape that aids in being spotted by a rescue helicopter in case of distress.
Minton says, “This year, Auxiliarists from the U.S. have attended meetings in the Caribbean with a view to helping other islands set up similar programs. Volunteers provide extra manpower for active duty personnel, and for volunteers, the government pays for your training and for fuel when your vessel is on a mission. It’s a win-win for everyone, especially in a region where we’re surrounded by water.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.
Two U.S. Virgin Islands students accepted to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy
Rian Bareuther and Dale Carty II of St. Thomas have been accepted to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) in New London, Connecticut. The USCGA is one of four service academies in the U.S. and, unlike the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Army Academy (which are under the Department of Defense), the USCGA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Only 290 of over 5000 applicants were accepted this year.
“My goal is to become an astronaut,” says Carty. “Therefore, my plan is to attend the Academy and then attend flight school.” Bareuther has similar aspirations, but a little closer to home. “I’d like to fly helicopters. But, I’d especially like one day to come back and work in the Caribbean. That would be both a proud honor and duty.”